Today is Guest Post Day, and who better to have come over and guest than Bruce Blake, a most entertaining gentleman who has graced these pages before. So sit back and listen closely while he gives us a little bit of his writing knowledge.
Take it away, Bruce.
On Murder and Deletions
Kill your darlings.
That darling little piece of writing advice is attributed to William Faulkner, author of Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and many others. It may be derivative from some other writer’s advice, and it has certainly been adopted by Stephen King, who tends to beat it to death (though why hands that out as advice in the midst of writing 1000+ page novels is a mystery). What it refers to, for those who may be uninitiated into our little band of serial killers, is not letting your own love of your writing stop you from cutting a word, sentence, scene, chapter, etc, which is not necessary to your novel.
Our assignment this week for the blog tour is to share with you a deletion. When I first began thinking about this, I was concerned. It is not often I delete whole chunks of a manuscript. Words, sentences, sometimes paragraphs, to be sure, but rarely more than that. How was I going to find a few sentences here and there to cobble together for my post? And then I remembered my current work in progress.
You forgot your work in progress, Bruce? Well, no, not exactly. The first book that makes up my four part epic fantasy, Khirro’s Journey, was the first novel I wrote and I finished the first draft about six years ago (don’t hold it against me; I’ve written and published two novels in the meantime and the first two books of the Journey have made it to draft number 11).
After I finished the first book, Blood of the King, I did a couple of edits, then passed it off to my beta readers. They wanted me to change the beginning. “The beginning?” I cried. “But that sets the stage. It introduces the characters! How can I cut the beginning?” The debate raged and, after much arguing, pouting and probably a few tears, I ended up chopping off the first thirty pages of the book.
You heard me…thirty pages.
I’m not going to reprint them all here, but I will give you a taste, and then I’ll let you in on why I ended up making the cut. Please bear in mind, these words never made it to the final edit, and I didn’t try to spruce them up for this post, so forgive any errors in spelling, grammar or good taste.
Without further ado, the never-to-be-seen-anywhere-but-here former opening of Blood of the King.
Men boiled over the land bridge, swarming onto the salt flats like so many maggots spilling from a burst corpse. Wavering sheets of heat radiated from the sun hardened land, twisting and distorting the army into unearthly shapes.
“The heat is in our favor,” Braymon said leaning against a merlon. Even the gentle sea breeze playing across his face gave no respite from the summer’s swelter. “But the parched flats will make for an easy march.”
Neither of the men standing behind him said anything, allowing their king to ruminate aloud on the invaders who had been seeping into his kingdom for the better part of six hours. If he wanted their input, he would ask for it.
“I played on these plains as a child,” Braymon said wistfully. “I learned to swim in the Bay of Tears. Back then, the fortress was a place to be explored, soldier was a game to be played. How things have changed.” Sunlight flashed on shields and armor, melding the distant army into a blurred, shimmering mass. “How many do you think, Rudric?”
“Thousands, my liege,” Rudric replied from his place at the king’s left. Braymon didn’t look at him as he spoke, instead keeping his eyes on the horde encroaching on his kingdom.
“Always trying to lift my spirits Rudric. Thank you,” the king said with an unenthusiastic chuckle. “But I should think they are more tens of thousands. What do you think, Therrador?”
“At least, my king. They are many, but the fortress is strong.”
Braymon looked to the sun in the east climbing higher into the sky. Below, the Sea of Linghala sparkled, waves rolling gently shoreward, indifferently chasing the enemy onto the plains. Would he ever dip a toe into its bracing waters again? Only time would tell. He turned and put a hand on Rudric’s shoulder, bare flesh slapping against metal armor; it was hot to the touch.
“A day—maybe two, but no longer—and they will fall upon us; I’d wager it. Have the men ready by nightfall. Our enemy doesn’t conceal their intent, so we best give them the courtesy of a fight they won’t soon forget. There’s bloody work ahead of us. Go and make ready, Rudric.”
The knight bowed shallowly at the waist before taking his leave. Braymon turned back to the plains stretching out from the foot of the Isthmus Fortress’s massive wall. Therrador stepped up beside him.
Atop the wall, they were more than a hundred feet above the plains and, on a clear day like today, could see for leagues upon leagues. Built nearly a thousand years before, the fortress wall was some forty feet thick, its surface scarred by battles fought centuries ago. Braymon traced his finger along the jagged corner of the merlon where a piece had been knocked free by an enemy catapult the Gods alone knew how long ago.
“It’s been many seasons since this wall was last called upon to keep out the enemy,” the king said. He pushed at a crack in the stone and a piece came away in his hand. He turned it over in his fingers, examining it as though he were trying to learn its story. “I had hoped many more would come and go before it was tested again.”
“As we all did, my king. But the wall will hold; it need not prove its mettle often to repel those dogs.”
Braymon looked at the man—his friend of more than two decades. All those years had changed his looks only little—a few strands of gray showed in the braid of his beard and his short black hair, his naturally dark complexion was showing more wear. Still, his features gave way little of the ferocity with which Braymon had seen Therrador fight. But for the scar over is right eye, one might mistakenly think he had held the role of statesman and adviser all his life, rather having grown into it alongside Braymon’s rule. Many times had the king felt relieved and thankful Therrador was on his side.
“It’s not the strength of the wall which burdens my thoughts, Therrador,” Braymon said. He tossed the piece of stone absently over the crenellations, sending it hurtling to the ground too far below for them to hear it land. “It’s been nearly twenty summers since Erechania has seen anything more than skirmishes. The warriors who fought beside us all those years ago are old and tired, or long since gone to the fields of the dead. Too many of our soldiers have never loosed an arrow but at a target nor swung their swords for more than practice.”
Therrador nodded, meeting Braymon’s gaze. “You’re right, your majesty, but they are well trained. And the soldiers of Erechania couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
“Hmph.” Braymon returned to surveying the enemy as they continued to funnel from the land bridge, filling the distant flats like sand in an hourglass.
How appropriate, he thought. For soon time will run out.
Waves on the Bay of Tears rolled on, mindless of human indulgences like war and greed, or of man himself. No matter what came to pass, the sea would go on forever; blood would wash away, the dead would rot and decay and disappear, but the waves would roll ever on. So many years had passed since Braymon had frolicked on those waves, equally as heedless to the follies of men. So much death had happened since then, and there was still more to come. Soon the plains would be stained red, waiting for the sea and the rains to wash them clean. And the waves would continue.
In the 28 pages that follow, we meet the main character, Khirro, and see him interact with others as the fortress is prepared for siege. He’s a farmer who makes an inept soldier (sorry for the cliche, but the truth is, in a medieval-style society, most of the citizens were farmers by necessity) who eventually finds himself fighting off invaders at the king’s side. At the end of the 30 pages, Khirro has been incapacitated and King Braymon is seemingly killed.
There is much I liked in these pages: the negative imagery of the men invading like maggots from a corpse; the powerful king’s wistful remembrances; and later, Khirro’s relationship with some of his fellow soldiers. So why cut it? Three reason:
- King Braymon dies on page 30 and does not appear anywhere in the book again, so why spend a bunch of time building his character? That can be done through other characters.
- Too much time spent on description, not enough action. If you’ve read my other books, you know I like to keep description to a minimum. In my opinion, the reader should create the world with only a little direction from me.
- The characters Khirro interacts with never show up again in the book, so they also became wasted words. Other characters and situations later in the story are more than enough to reveal and build Khirro’s character.
So where does the book start? With Braymon’s death and Khirro almost immediately being dragged into a magical plot to save the kingdom. Instead of 30 pages of character building, the story begins in media res. And I think it has made a stronger book. Watch for book 1 of Khirro’s Journey to be released in September.
One of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Good Writing is “try not to write the parts that people tend not to read”. Have you ever read a book and wondered why a scene was there? Do you skip parts of books? Did you skip to the bottom of this blog post?
I hope not.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” then he does shovelling. The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of burlesque diva Miss Rosie Bitts.
Bruce has been writing since grade school but it wasn’t until five years ago he set his sights on becoming a full-time writer. Since then, his first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon, another short, “Yardwork”, was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod and his first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published to Kindle in Dec., 2011. The second Icarus Fell novel, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, was released in July, 2012, and the first book in the four-part “Khirro’s Journey” epic fantasy is due in September, 2012. He has plans for at least three more Icarus novels, several stand alones, and a possible YA fantasy co-written with his eleven-year-old daughter.
On Unfaithful Wings
My name is Icarus Fell. I am a harvester.
The archangel Michael brought me back to collect souls and help them on their way to Heaven–that’s what a harvester does. If I get enough of them before the bad guys do–if I do a good job–I can have my life back. Now people I knew in life are dying, killed by a murderer’s knife, their bodies defiled, and the cops think I’m the killer.
I’m not, but I think I know who is.
But how does a dead man, a man who no longer exists, stop a psycho? I’m not sure, but I’m going to stop him before everyone I know is dead.
I have to stop him before he gets to my son.